Some of the most elegant breads I've come across seem to have Japanese origins. Take the Hokkaido milk bread for example, The pillowy softness that we only see in those mass manufactured monstrosities that have a laundry list of ingredients, of which half are synthetic man made preservatives - The Hokkaido milk bread has all the great qualities of 'Wonder bread' without any of the ghoulish preservatives.
This months bread, picked by Aparna Balasubramanian from 'My Diverse kitchen' is yet another wonder from the Japanese bread basket. The 'Melon Pan'. Lets first dissect the name - Its a Japanese dish with no ingredient even remotely associated with melons of any kind, and its referred to by the Portuguese name for bread 'Pan' - Go figure!
The crackly rough looking surface of the bun was supposedly said to resemble the surface of a cantaloupe, hence the presence of the term Melon in the name. In reality, this crinkly surface is a cookie dough covering the surface of the bread. The end result is a crunchy exterior that encloses a soft yeasty bun. Some recipe variations call for chocolate chips in between the layers, but I opted to tuck in a little square of Valhrona dark chocolate in the center of the dough, just to give it an element of surprise.
I had initially planned to omit the eggs in the recipe in favor of yogurt, but eventually changed my mind and used one egg in the cookie dough. For the bread dough I substituted with 4 tablespoons of yogurt, and also used whey in place of water in the recipe where ever it was called for.
Japanese Melon Pan bread:
(Adapted from A Bread A Day http://www.abreadaday.com/?p=1503)
For the Bread dough:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra as required)
2 tablespoon non fat milk powder
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whey
4 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
25gm butter, at room temperature
For the cookie dough:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
A large pinch of salt
60gm butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup castor sugar (increase to 1/3 cup for sweeter dough)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
Granulated sugar for sprinkling over the buns
Whisk together the flour, powdered milk, yeast, and salt in the bowl (I opted to use a hand mixer fitted with dough hooks). In a smaller bowl, beat the yogurt and whey together with a fork till well blended. Add this to the flour mixture in the bowl.
Knead (on low speed in hand mixer) till it all comes together as a dough and then (on medium speed) until you have a somewhat stiff dough. Add the sugar and knead well.
Next, add the butter and knead (first at slow speed and then on medium) until the butter is completely incorporated into the dough and the dough becomes smooth and elastic. The dough should well-kneaded to develop the gluten.
Shape the dough into a round, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let it rise till double in volume (about an hour or so).
WHile the dough rises, make the cookie dough. In a bowl, cream the soft butter and sugar till fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat till combined. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and add this to the bowl. Also add the orange zest. Beat together until just combined.
Shape the dough into a cylinder (this will make the dough easy to divide and flatten out later), and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate the dough until required. This firms up the dough making it easier to work with.
Once the bread dough has doubled in volume, place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly grease your baking sheet or line it with parchment. Deflate the dough gently and divide it into 8 equal portions. Wrap the pieces of dough around a piece of chocolate and shape each portion into a smooth ball like for bread rolls. Work with one portion and keep the others covered so they don’t dry out.
Unwrap the cookie dough. It should be reasonably firm now and easy to work with. Slice the cylinder of cookie dough into 8 equal portions. Use two pieces of plastic sheets or cling film to flatten the cookie dough. Place one slice/ round of cookie dough on a piece of plastic sheet/ cling film. Cover with another piece, and using a flat bottomed pan, press down on the dough to flatten it, until it is reasonably thin but not very much so.
Carefully take on ball of bread dough (it will have puffed up a little so don’t deflate it), and place the circle of cookie dough on top of it. Gently press the cookie dough edge to the bread dough ball so that it covers the top and sides of the ball, but leaves the bottom open.
Gently, holding the covered bread dough by the underside, press it into some castor sugar. Then using a scraper, or the blunt side of a knife, mark the top of the cookie dough side of the bread roll with a cross hatch/ diamond pattern. The pattern should be deep enough (otherwise it will disappear when the bread rises and bakes) without cutting through the cookie dough layer into the bread.
Place this on the greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat this with the remaining cookie dough and bread dough balls. Let them rise for an hour.
Bake them at 180C (350F) for about 25 minutes, until the tops of the Melon Pan just start turning brown. If you let them brown too much, the underside of the bread will burn. Transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
This recipe makes 8 medium to largish Melon Pan. Melon Pan are best eaten the day they are made. However warming them slightly before serving the next day is also fine.
This post is being Yeastspotted.
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